A Tesla Model S sedan has been spotted at RAF Fairford, a sprawling U.S. Air Force base in the United Kingdom, accompanying U-2 spy planes during takeoffs. The so-called "chase cars" monitor the airplane on the ground and assist the pilot during takeoff.
The video released on YouTube on July 26 shows a white Tesla Model S electric car acting as the chase car for a U-2 operating out of RAF Fairford. The U-2 and its escort pass the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team and a C-17 Globemaster III transport during the takeoff process:
Designed in the 1950s, the U-2 became famous during the Cold War for its overflights of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and other hostile countries. Flying slow and at an altitude of 70,000 feet, the U-2 could photograph wide swathes of enemy territory below, providing invaluable intelligence. The airplane is still used today, with updated sensors, to keep track of potential adversaries and their activities.
One big problem with the U-2: The same characteristics that make it an ideal spy plane also make its takeoffs difficult. The aircraft has a huge turning radius on the ground, a function of its wide wingspan and location of its landing gear. Small landing gear wheels called "pogos" that keep the plane's sagging, fuel-laden wings from dragging on the ground fall away during takeoff, making any abort during the process inherently dangerous.
In order to make the takeoff and landing process safer, the U.S. Air Force began using muscle cars driven by other U-2 pilots to spot for the pilot in the plane. The U-2, designed to operate at high altitudes, accelerates quickly at sea level, making it difficult for ordinary cars to follow. The use of muscle cars , driven by "mobile pilots" who watch for hazards and call out aircraft speed and other useful information, has virtually eliminated U-2 accidents on the ground.
Why a Tesla? In P100D Ludicrous form, the Tesla Model S is seriously quick, capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in 2.28 seconds. The U-2's takeoff speed is roughly , and the Tesla keeps up with the plane right up to takeoff.